Is Islamic Fundamentalism Fuelling Terrorism?

Robert Pape is a leading expert on terrorism and suicide-bombing. He specializes in international security affairs and is a Professor in Political Science, Co-Director of the Program for International Security Politics at the University of Chicago.


Pape claims to have compiled the world’s first “database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 — 315 attacks in all” (3). “The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions. . . . Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland” (4). It is important that Americans understand this growing phenomenon (4-7). ¹

“[T]he taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism” not religion (79). It is “an extreme strategy for national liberation” (80). This explains how the local community can be persuaded to re-define acts of suicide and murder as acts of martyrdom on behalf of the community (81-83). Pape proposes a nationalist theory of suicide terrorism, seen from the point of view of terrorists. He analyzes the notions of occupation (83-84), homeland (84-85), identity (85-87), religious difference as a contributor to a sense of “alien” occupation (87-88), foreign occupation reverses the relative importance of religion and language (88-92), and the widespread perception of the method as a “last resort” (92-94). A statistical demonstration leads to the conclusion that a “linear” rather than “self-reinforcing spiral” explanation of suicide terrorism is best (94-100). However, different future developments of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism are very possible, and more study of the role of religion is needed (101). ²

Pape’s Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It is co-authored with James K. Feldman, a defense policy analyst who formerly taught at the Air Force Institute of Technology. The book was published by the University of Chicago Press in early October 2010.

Cutting the Fuse adds substantially to Pape’s earlier work on terrorism, evaluating more than 2100 suicide attacks (6 times the number evaluated in Dying to Win), developing a new social logic of transnational suicide terrorists, identifying the key factors that explain the ebb and flow within suicide terrorist campaigns, conducting detailed case studies of the 8 largest campaigns (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Chechnya, and Sri Lanka), and offering expanded policy recommendations:

  • Avoid where feasible stationing troops where they will be perceived as occupiers threatening local culture and institutions or coercing the government of an occupied state to do things that would be perceived as benefiting the occupiers at the expense of the local population.
  • When occupation is necessary, minimize the threat to local culture by helping local officials to do things they might otherwise want to did but didn’t previously have the ability and by treating collateral damage with great sensitivity (pp. 330-333).
“Overall, foreign military occupation accounts for 98.5% — and the deployment of American combat forces for 92% — of all the 1,833 suicide terrorist attacks around the world in the past six years [2004-2009].” (p. 28)
“Have these actions … made America safe? In a narrow sense, America is safer. There has not been another attack on the scale of 9/11. … In a broader sense, however, America is not safer. Anti-American suicide terrorism is rapidly rising around the world.” (p. 318)
“[I]n both Iraq and Afghanistan … local communities that did not inherently share the terrorists’ political, social, and military agenda, eventually support[ed] the terrorists organization’s campaign … after local communities began to perceive the Western forces as an occupier … as foreign troops propping up and controlling their national government, changing their local culture, jeopardizing economic well-being, and conducting combat operations with high collateral damage … . But, we have also seen in Iraq that this perception of occupation can be changed … .” (p. 333) 
“For over a decade our enemies have been dying to win. By ending the perception that the United States and its allies are occupiers, we can cut the fuse to the suicide terrorism threat.” (p. 335)  ³

¹Pape, Robert. “Dying to Win.” Wikipedia.Ch. 1: The Growing Threat
²Pape, Robert. “Dying to Win.” Wikipedia. Part II: The Social Logic of Suicide Terrorism Ch. 6: Occupation and Religious Difference
³ “Robert Pape.” Wikipedia. Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It

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